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Image: Jamie Lee Curtis
Gabriel Bouys  /  AFP - Getty Images
Actress Jamie Lee Curtis places a flower on the casket of her father Tony Curtis at the Palm Mortuary and Cemetery, Green Valley in Las Vegas on Monday.
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updated 10/4/2010 4:45:20 PM ET 2010-10-04T20:45:20

Actor Tony Curtis was buried Monday with a melange of his favorite possessions — a Stetson hat, an Armani scarf, driving gloves, an iPhone and a copy of his favorite novel, "Anthony Adverse," a book that inspired his celebrity name and launched a robust film career that spanned decades and genres.

The 85-year-old Oscar-nominated actor who starred in such films as "The Defiant Ones" and "Some Like It Hot" died Wednesday at his home in Henderson, a Las Vegas suburb, after suffering cardiac arrest.

More than 400 celebrities, fans, friends and family members gathered to say goodbye at a public funeral service Monday in Las Vegas honoring Curtis' life.

Slideshow: Tony Curtis (1925-2010) (on this page)

The funeral was to be followed by the burial and then a reception for 200 invited guests at the Luxor hotel-casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

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A montage of Curtis' famous film roles opened the sometimes solemn, sometimes mirthful farewell service attended by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, actor Jamie Lee Curtis, porn star Ron Jeremy and Vera Goulet, widow of Broadway singer Robert Goulet. The crowd laughed as an animated Curtis appeared in a scene from the television series "The Flintstones" and sparred with actor Kirk Douglas in "Spartacus."

Friends and fans lined up outside Palm Mortuary & Cemetery well before the funeral, with more than a dozen photographers and television journalists watching the scene. Inside, seven colorful paintings and three black-and-white drawings by Curtis stood on easels while a photo of the young, dark-haired actor was projected on a screen. The coffin was draped with an American flag.

Jamie Lee Curtis, Curtis' daughter from his first marriage with "Psycho" actress Janet Leigh, teared up as she described a man who was, she said, "a little mashugana" — Yiddish for crazy — but always full of life.

Video: Remembering the life of actor Tony Curtis (on this page)

"All of us got something from him. I, of course, got his desperate need for attention," she joked.

The father and daughter were estranged for a long period but eventually reconciled. Curtis took pride in his daughter's on-screen credits that include "Perfect," "Halloween," "True Lies" and new comedy "You Again."

Rabbi Mel Hecht called Schwarzenegger to the front of the room for an impromptu farewell. The Austrian native recalled Curtis as a generous mentor who encouraged his budding Hollywood career when others told him his foreign accent and name were too much of a handicap.

Curtis, whose native Bronx accent initially earned him similar criticism, could sympathize.

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"You are going to make it," Schwarzenegger recalled Curtis telling him. "Don't pay any attention to those guys. I heard the same thing when I came here."

Schwarzenegger said Curtis refused to feel old.

Video: Remembering Hollywood legend Tony Curtis (on this page)

"I mean, who has the guts to take off their clothes at the age of 80?" Schwarzenegger said, recalling Curtis' naked photo shoot in Vanity Fair in 2005.

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Curtis' sixth wife, Jill Curtis, eulogized her husband of 12 years. She recalled how he easily dismissed their 45-year age difference when friends asked if he was worried about keeping up with a younger wife.

"If she dies, she dies," she said her husband would deadpan in reply.

She recalled his simple loves: Krispy Kreme doughnuts, Splenda and white clothes. She urged family and friends to dwell not on his death, but on his extraordinary life.

"He was, as one fan put it, a once-in-a-lifetime man," she said.

Hecht led the room in a series of Jewish prayers.

"He is one of those greats of our culture and our society who you always knew, regardless of what character he was playing, that he was Tony Curtis," Hecht said.

Known for his transformation from a pigeonholed pretty boy in the late 1940s and early '50s to a serious actor, Curtis reshaped himself over decades of work and made himself impossible to typecast. The metamorphosis was completed in 1957's "Sweet Smell of Success," in which he played a sleazy press agent manipulated by a ruthless newspaper columnist (Burt Lancaster).

In person, Curtis loved giving friends and fans extra touches that made their face-to-face moments more memorable, longtime friend and pallbearer Gene Kilroy told The Associated Press.

"He had a certain way of making everybody feel like they were Spartacus," Kilroy said.

Kilroy, an executive at Luxor, said billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian, actor Kirk Douglas and singer Phyllis McGuire were among seven honorary pallbearers.

Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz in 1925, the son of Hungarian Jews who emigrated to the United States after World War I. His father, Manny Schwartz, yearned to be an actor, but work was hard to find with his heavy accent. He instead became a tailor, relocating the family repeatedly as he sought work.

"I was always the new kid on the block, so I got beat up by the other kids," Curtis recalled in 1959. "I had to figure a way to avoid getting my nose broken. So I became the crazy new kid on the block."

Curtis suffered tragedy at age 12 when his younger brother was killed in a traffic accident. Finding refuge in movies, he would ditch school to catch matinees starring Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper and other screen idols.

After serving on a submarine during World War II, he enrolled in drama school on the G.I. Bill and was doing theater work when an agent lined up an audition with Universal, where he signed a seven-year contract starting at $100 a week at age 23.

The studio gave him the name Anthony Curtis, taken from his favorite novel and the Anglicized name of a favorite uncle. He later shortened it to Tony Curtis.

As his big-screen star faded in the 1960s, Curtis remolded himself as a character actor and turned to television with the 1970s action series "The Persuaders," co-starring Roger Moore, and a recurring role on the crime drama "Vegas."

Curtis earned an Emmy nomination in 1980 as producer David O. Selznick in the "Gone With the Wind" chronicle "The Scarlett O'Hara War."

He also turned to writing with a 1977 novel, "Kid Cody and Julie Sparrow" and 1993's "Tony Curtis: The Autobiography."

Curtis remained vigorous following heart bypass surgery in 1994, although his health declined in recent years.

As the funeral ended Monday, a second film reel flashed before the crowd.

The montage finished with the words "The End" cast on an image of Curtis shaking his head, as if he were disputing his own epilogue. Hollywood legend Tony Curtis dies at 85

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Tony Curtis

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  1. After serving in the Pacific during World War II and being wounded at Guam, Tony Curtis returned to New York and studied acting under the G.I. Bill. He appeared in summer stock theater and on the Borscht Circuit in the Catskills. Then an agent lined up an audition with a Universal-International talent scout. In 1948, at 23, he signed a seven-year contract with the studio, starting at $100 a week. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Curtis was born Bernie Schwartz, a name studio executives thought sounded too Jewish for a movie actor. So they gave him a new name: Anthony Curtis, taken from his favorite novel, "Anthony Adverse," and the Anglicized name of a favorite uncle. After his eighth film, he became Tony Curtis. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Curtis, right, played Antonius opposite Sir Laurence Olivier as Crassus in Stanley Kubrick's 1960 film "Spartacus." (Time & Life Pictures via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Curtis portrayed magician Harry Houdini in the 1953 film, "Houdini." (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Ernest Borgnine, left, Janet Leigh, front center, Curtis and Kirk Douglas, rear, on the set of "The Vikings" in 1958. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Curtis, circa 1960. Asked in a 2008 interview with Matt Lauer on the TODAY show if his good looks were a blessing or a curse, Curtis drew laughs by saying "I never found them a curse. No, I loved it." (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Curtis dances with his wife Janet Leigh during a party in Beverly Hills, Calif., on March 30, 1961. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Curtis and Leigh with their daughters Kelly, 2 1/2, and newborn Jamie Lee in Hollywood, Calif., on Jan. 16, 1959. He had married Leigh in 1951, when they were both rising young stars; they divorced in 1963. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Burt Lancaster, left, Gina Lollobrigida and Curtis appear in a scene from the 1956 film "Trapeze." (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Curtis, left, and Jack Lemmon starred together in the 1959 comedy classic "Some Like It Hot." Curtis — famously imitating Cary Grant's accent — and Lemmon play jazz musicians who dress up as women to escape retribution after witnessing a gangland massacre. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Marilyn Monroe was their co-star in "Some Like It Hot," and Curtis and Lemmon were repeatedly kept waiting as Monroe lingered in her dressing room out of fear and insecurity. Curtis fumed over her unprofessionalism. When someone remarked that it must be thrilling to kiss Monroe in the film's love scenes, the actor snapped, "It's like kissing Hitler." (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Curtis' opinion of Marilyn Monroe softened, and in interviews he praised her unique talent. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Curtis in 1965. In addition to "Some Like It Hot," Curtis also starred in "Sweet Smell of Success," "Captain Newman, M.D.," "The Vikings," "Kings Go Forth" and "Operation Petticoat." He also found time to do a voice acting gig as his prehistoric lookalike, Stony Curtis, in an episode of "The Flintstones." (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Curtis, right, and Jack Lemmon, left, joined in a tribute to "Some Like It Hot" director Billy Wilder in this undated photo. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Curtis, right, co-starred with Burt Lancaster in "The Sweet Smell of Success" in 1957. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Sidney Poitier and Curtis starred in "The Defiant Ones" in 1958. Curtis earned an Oscar nomination for the performance. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Curtis and his second wife, Christine Kaufmann, pose with their daughter Alexandra in Los Angeles on Aug. 15, 1964. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Curtis poses with his daughter, actress Jamie Lee Curtis, on Jan. 1, 1991. Curtis took a fatherly pride in his daughter's success. They were estranged for a long period, then reconciled. "I understand him better now," she said, "perhaps not as a father but as a man." (Time & Life Pictures via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Curtis takes a turn behind a camera in Cannes during the 38th International Film Festival on May 11, 1985. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Curtis showcases his artwork at an exhibition in Harrods in central London on April 17, 2008. (Shuan Curry / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Curtis, author of "American Prince: A Memoir," presents his book in the Millenaris Culture Center of Budapest during an event of the 16th International Book Festival on April 25, 2009. (Gergely Botar / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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Video: Remembering the life of actor Tony Curtis

  1. Closed captioning of: Remembering the life of actor Tony Curtis

    >>> hollywood legend tony curtis died last night of cardiac arrest at his home in nevada. in a career that spanned 59 years and was in "some like it hot" and the father of jamie curtis, he was 85. back to matt and vieira, certainly a huge loss.

    >> and jamie lee is a big friend of ours. our condolences go out to her and her entire family. it is a terrible loss. he was here in 2008 when he wrote that book about his time in hollywood . when he got there to hollywood , he was brad pitt and george clooney all rolled into one.

    >> that's right.

    >> great storyteller.

    >> what a life.

    >> had quite a life.

    >> yes, he did.

    >> amy mentioned that some like it hot movie where he got focus marilyn monroe and reporters asked him after the scene, what was it like to kiss marilyn monroe ? he thought it was a dump question and he gave a dump answer, it was like kissing hitler. he got a lot of press at the time. he's a legend in

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